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The Internet of Things is gearing up

By Brian S Hall / May 23, 2014


The Internet of Things is gearing up

The Internet of Things (IoT) will connect your car to streaming media, family members, roads, toll booths, smog monitors, transit authorities, other vehicles and pretty much everything else that can be viewed through your windshield. What’s to be gained from all this connectivity? It should ease commute times, improve productivity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, keep the kiddies in the backseat happy and make many companies a great deal of money. But will it improve the driving experience? Almost certainly, yes.

Cars can no longer be strictly defined as a mechanical device. They are, in fact, giant mobile computers—incorporating driver assistance software, infotainment systems, intelligent sensors and millions of lines of code. Soon, your connected car’s data will be streamed to the cloud, transmitted via telemetry to nearby cars and archived by road commissions. The revolution’s only just getting started. An improved driving experience should incorporate most if not all of the following enhancements:

  1. Safety
  2. Convenience
  3. Lower costs
  4. Increased productivity
  5. More fun

Safety

Cadillac is currently testing a “Super Cruise” mode that is capable of semi-autonomous steering, braking and lane-centering. Other GM vehicles will soon be equipped with a lesser form of “Super Cruise” that helps the driver keep the car centered in the lane while in cruise. Expect more such semi-autonomous features to follow soon. Why? Because humans are accident-prone. Consider that:

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The Internet of Things is helping to make our cars situationally aware, automatically notifying drivers of poor conditions ahead with a beep, vibration or even an automated override. Soon, our vehicles will be able to slow down on their own should they sense another car is too close or brake if we fail to see a pedestrian in a crosswalk. With the IoT, car safety should improve significantly.

The IoT inside our cars may also make us better drivers. As it collects data on every trip—recording our speed, braking, turning, tire traction and more—it can automatically send this data to our smartphones to be analyzed and reviewed. No doubt, many companies and individuals will find value in such data.

Convenience and lower costs

Outside of our cars, the IoT can incorporate sensors into roads, toll ways, traffic lights, stop signs and other surrounding objects to feed us the latest road and traffic condition data via the cloud. Combined, this should make for a far more convenient and efficient driving experience. This will help us save on time, gas and maintenance for our cars.

It gets even better. As a truly mobile ‘node,’ every connected car can provide real-time data on traffic flow, telling us which areas to avoid and alert transit authorities when to raise tolls or even where to build new roads.

This technology is already underway with apps like Waze, the popular social mapping service recently purchased by Google. With your approval, Waze tracks where users are and how fast they’re going, providing a real-time view of commuting times.

By tapping the power of the crowd and gathering data from every car using its service, Waze can tell you the best route to take, notify you of any accidents ahead, and which routes to avoid. Should you need it, Waze can even find you the nearest and cheapest gas or help you reduce your carbon footprint altogether by keeping you out of stop-and-go traffic.

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Right now, Waze resides inside your smartphone, but look for it to be embedded inside your car in the very near future. Google launched its “Open Automotive Alliance” in part to have Waze and its many other services incorporated into your car’s infotainment system.

Improved productivity

As big of an impact as connected cars will have on our travel plans, it will almost certainly improve personal productivity just as much. By reducing our commute times, we will obviously have more time for work and errands, but the IoT will improve our productivity in other ways, as well.

For example, Apple’s CarPlay service—which the company is already developing with multiple automakers—will have Siri read us our texts and emails, then send out our dictated responses. That’s just the start. Our car will soon know our grocery list enough to remind us to pick up some milk and where to find it cheapest. We can have news, stock market data and other information based on personal preferences, time and location streamed to us as well. Thanks to services like CarPlay, we’ll be able to get more done, even during the worst commutes.

Fun

Apple’s CarPlay system isn’t just for enhanced efficiency. The automobile OS may soon serve as the centerpiece of your in-car entertainment system. It will offer many of your favorite apps, your music and podcast collection, and possibly even streaming rental videos—for those not driving. Add in Yelp, Twitter, the ability to dictate status updates to your Facebook account, and time stuck in traffic just got a whole lot more enjoyable.

It’s not just Apple, of course. Nokia is spending big to become part of your car’s navigation and ‘infotainment’ system. Google, Microsoft and several others are as well. It’s probably for the best that these leading tech companies, known for creating some of the world’s most popular mobile computing interfaces, are aggressively seeking to develop the standard user interface for our next car. After all, consider today’s F1 steering wheel. Its various paddles, knobs, communications controls, mic and LCD display all have an explicit purpose. But, unless you’re a professional driver, no one wants that.

The connected car

While the well-publicized Google driverless cars may still be a decade away from practical use, “semi-autonomous” vehicles are already here, and the Internet of Things has already found its way inside newer vehicles. The question is, are drivers ready to buy in?


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